The quiet and seemingly already decided race for South Whidbey’s state representative seat just got a bit more interesting with the emergence of a third challenger.
Scott Chaplin, a Langley Democrat, was recognized by the state last week, Oct. 18, as a write-in candidate for position 1 in the 10th Legislative District. The seat is currently held by four-term incumbent Norma Smith, a Clinton Republican. Seeking to unseat her is Michael Scott, a Camano Island Libertarian.
To date the race has captured little spotlight, which is likely in part due to Smith’s largely silent challenger. Scott did not participate at most if not all of the election forums held in Island, Skagit and Snohomish counties over the past few months, and has been shy of press. Scott declined a Record request for an interview, but instead sent an emailed statement on his positions and why he’s running.
District wide, Smith claimed 73 percent of the vote in the primary election to Scott’s 27 percent. In Island County, her margin of victory was less at 59 percent to Scott’s 21 percent.
Chaplin acknowledged that his entry into the race just 22 days before the election as a write-in candidate — his name isn’t on the ballot — doesn’t leave him with good odds, but he says at least voters now have two conventional options.
“I think a lot of people get frustrated when they don’t have a real choice on the ballot, so I’m just offering my candidacy as a progressive Democrat choice for position 1,” he said.
He added that he has nothing “against” Smith, and described her as a “decent and hardworking person” and a “loyal Republican.”
When asked about her newest challenger, Smith said she did not know Chaplin and offered no further comment.
Smith was appointed to position one in 2008 and has held the position ever since. If elected, this would be her five two-year term.
Smith counts her work in strengthening privacy and data security, sponsoring a bill that created a “standard” of protection and working with Gov. Jay Inslee to create the Office of Privacy and Data Protection, among her greatest achievements.
She also spearheaded and sponsored a bill that created the Joint Center for Deployment and Research in Earth Abundant Materials, also referred to as JC Dream. The center strives to make Washington a leader in the development and commercialization of next-generation clean energy and transportation technologies, and subsequently decreasing a reliance on foreign countries that produce raw materials with poor environmental practices and established human rights violations.
The believes the center’s research will lead to “breakthroughs” within a couple years, but is also instrumental in educating the public about the product it relies on and the hidden price tag that comes with them.
“We don’t understand the consequences of our consumption in other nations of the world,” she said.
Looking ahead, Smith said satisfying the McCleary decision is the top priority. The landmark case ordered the state Legislature to meet it’s “paramount” duty to fully fund education by 2018. Smith served on the McCleary task force last year, and is currently serving on the Education Funding Task Force with eight other lawmakers.
The state has made progress, investing $4.6 billion into education thus far, and Smith is convinced the Legislature will meet it’s 2018 deadline. The progress in Olympia is a matter of debate, however, with the court making clear that it believes the state has not done enough; in 2015 it began fining the state $100,000 per day. Smith says the court is wrong.
“What they don’t understand is the progress that we’ve made,” she said.
Smith also claimed that non-partisan attorneys working for the state have claimed the court doesn’t fully understand the complexities involving the mandate.
The solution will likely involve levy reform (addressing the reliance upon and inequities of levies in rich and poor school districts) and other revenue generators.
Chaplin sees the situation differently, saying he agrees with the court that the state’s progress has been sluggish at best. He blames the delays on “political gridlock” and is skeptical of promises that the deadline will be met on time.
“I hope so, but it sounds like an echo chamber,” Chaplin said.
“It’s been two years and no progress has been made,” he added. “Someone needs to shake things up.”
Chaplin says his party is the one to do it.
“If we could get the progressive Democrats in control of the house and the senate, we could get a lot of things done,” he said.
Chaplin is the campaign manager of Doris Brevoort, the Mount Vernon Democrat challenging Dave Hayes, a Camano Republican, for District 10’s position 2. He said he’d planned to run for a state office in 2018 — he hadn’t decided which one — when he was urged by Art Huffine, chairman of the Island County Democrats, to expedite those plans and run this year.
“He really pushed me into it and I’m glad he did,” he said.
Along with being eager to tackle the state’s education troubles, Chaplin says mental health issues are big problem that need focus. Washington is cited as providing the lowest level of mental funding in the nation. Chaplin says the decision to not “invest upfront” has resulted in paying later; he points to mass shootings as one symptom of a lack of needed services.
Smith says mental health is a priority for her as well, coming in as a close second to education. She said the state has already done a lot in the past budget cycles, making investments into the Maple Lane Youth Detention Center for example, but that more needs to be done. She said the exact direction should come from experts, people working in the trenches. Representatives from five counties that includes District 10 are meeting to bring an “agreed upon, prioritized list” that will best benefit the region.
“I want them to prioritize that, not the Legislature because they’re delivering the services on the ground,” she said.
Once complete, then lawmakers can work down the list by identifying funding.
Chaplin says the state could tap several revenue sources to pay for such services, among them overhauling what he described as one of the most “regressive” tax policies in the nation. He would support a state income tax, and would consider other taxes, such as one on soda, candy and “junk” food. They aren’t nutritious, so there’s no reason they should be tax exempt like other food in Washington.
Chaplin considers himself a “big picture” guy, someone focusing on global issues such as climate change, but that he would also pay attention to problems at home, such as protecting the environment and protecting funding for important programs.
According to Scott’s emailed statement, he decided to run after surviving cancer several years ago. He believes he is alive only because of “extensive research that my family and I undertook to help save my life.” The experience changed him and sparked an “education” of the world and the hurdles it faces. He was urged to run and agreed to do so.
“… if we could just reach one person, to impart a small part of what we had been learning, to spark the inspiration for others to look for the answers to healing, to the craziness we felt our political system has become, then the efforts would be worth it,” he wrote.
Scott’s statement said he chose to run as a Libertarian because it was the closest “vehicle” to foster positive change. It also highlighted his objection to the current two-party system, one that he says makes it difficult for outsiders to participate. It’s expensive, and the money should be removed from the process.
“I feel anyone in our community should be able to run for office and have the same level playing field,” he said.